Untitled no.5

Artist Blog by Basil Al-Rawi

In this first guest post for Der Greif, I feel it’s appropriate to begin with some background to my project Façade, which Der Greif have kindly chosen to feature.

This project originated out of a desire to respond to the impact of the property crash and subsequent economic crisis on the social and physical landscape in Ireland. Much reflection has taken place across media, literature and the arts on the repercussions of neo-liberal free market excess and the decline of the Celtic Tiger economy. Reportage of the ensuing social distress precipitated by the crash has become a daily ritual in Ireland and living within this climate roused a compulsion to respond.

My interest centered on one of the most tangible and stark manifestation of the crash: thousands of incomplete or vacant dwellings which stretch to almost every town in the country, known as ‘ghost estates’. What I found most compelling as I researched and traveled around the country was the recurring imagery used in the marketing brochures of housing developments; architectural renderings of apartments blocks and housing estates contrasted with clichéd lifestyle photography. Both the CGI imagery and the photographs appear to function on a virtual, hyperreal level, constructing an illusion through hype and seduction. One of the concerns of this project is to explore and attempt to comment on this territory between the virtual and the real, between the construction of fantasy and represented reality.

Many of the abandoned developments I encountered were still encircled by their original hoardings, adorned with the same imagery from the brochures, garishly displaying promises for ‘a new way of life’. They appear like relics of the rhetoric of boomtime, monuments of desire and promise now rendered ironic and absurd. These hoardings obstruct our view and perform like screens, projecting one reality while simultaneously concealing another.

Intervention was critical to my photographic approach as I was motivated by a desire to reinterpret the reality of these structures, primarily to refresh our observation of them and encourage reflection upon the ideologies that governed the era represented, when happiness and social mobility was inextricably linked with property ownership. Furthermore, through a process of detachment and dislocation I hope, on one level, to convey a sense of the surreal disruptive impact of these structures on the landscape. On another level, I wish to create space for the viewer to contemplate the visual rhetoric at work on these hoardings and in turn photography’s implicit role in the construction of illusion. Hence the title of this project, which also implicates my own photographs in this theatre. The word ‘façade’ recurred during my research, especially with regard to the idea that art, and specifically photography, is a medium of illusion which can provoke us into questioning the real. Mike Kelley wrote that ‘art must concern itself with the real, but it throws any notion of the real into question. It always turns the real into a facade, a representation, and a construction.’[1]The images in this series seek to intervene in the real in order to encourage reflection on fictional constructs from the past which continue to haunt the present.

[1] Kelly, M., (1999). The Meaning is Confused Spatially, Framed in Mike Kelley, exhibition catalogue. Grenoble: Le Magasin.p.62

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